Complete Episode: Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park in California is one of the hottest, driest and most extreme landscapes on earth, a place where barren salt flats stretch for miles and scorching dunes form below rugged peaks.
At 280 feet below sea level, the Badwater Basin is a popular spot for the nearly 1 million tourists that visit the park every year. It is the lowest spot in North America and the terminus of the entire great basin watershed. Even today in wet winter months, water can be found in one of the driest places on earth and can lead to an incredible bloom of wildflowers in the spring.
Greg and the crew invited a couple of fans -- Kimberly Vinson and Susanne Waite -- who had never seen Death Valley to explore the park with them.
"When I found out we were going to Death Valley I was really excited because I have never been and I always wanted to go and this is a great chance to go out there and learn from some people who know the area," said Susanne Waite, Coarsegold, California.
"I first found out about Motion when I was spying on Susanne's Facebook page. I saw that she liked it and I thought, 'Oh, Susanne likes Motion.' I clicked on it. I saw the shows," said Kimberly Vinson, Oakhurst, California.
This is an immense park filled with natural features that catch most people by surprise.
While Greg was exploring the Badwater Basin, he noticed that a large amount of water had collected on the saltpan. In wet years, a lake will form at Badwater slowly filling this part of Death Valley.
"It was amazing to see water at Death Valley. I never imagined there would be water because I know it is one of the driest places on earth but I thought it was really cool and I just wanted to go out in it," said Susanne.
"It is ugly beautiful. That is just what popped into my head. There is beautiful, beautiful and there is ugly beautiful. This was just uniquely, ugly beautiful and I couldn't keep my eyes off of it," said Kimberly.
In summer, temperatures average 115 degrees so winter and spring are the most popular times to visit Death Valley.
Hitting Badwater in the morning is a good idea to avoid crowds.
Natural Bridge Trailhead is between Furnace Creek and Badwater. It is the home to Death Valley's only natural bridge. The trailhead is elevated above the parking floor with nice views of Badwater below. The hike to the bridge is just under a mile.
"I like the slot canyons. I think they are really neat. And just to be lost in all the other vastness of Death Valley," said Susanne.
The natural bridge is noticeably different from the giant sandstone found in Utah but it is still beautiful in its own way.
"There are people that say that this earth is an accident. How do you look at something like that and say that this is an accident?" asked Kimberly.
With great views of Telescope Peak and the surrounding mountains in the background this is another perfect spot for a short hike with a worthy payoff.
At Devil's Golf Course, you can explore the wild salt sculptures.
"I basically didn't want to get out of the car. I have been there, done that, nothing to see here but once I got out and got into it, I was like a little kid, jumping from one sand sculpture to another. It was cool to find out it is spongy and has texture," said Susanne.
The true beauty of Devil's Golf Course is when you take a closer look at these bizarre formations. It is easy to be awe struck with these giant panoramic displays of the park's stretching views but when you dive in for a really close look at these incredible displays of crystallized salt you will get lost in the complexity.
Everyone's experience with Death Valley is different. Susanne -- an avid photographer -- focused on photographing the amazing park, while Kim took in the stillness that is such a magical part of visiting Death Valley.
Most of the stops we featured are centrally located near Furnace Creek Ranch -- where the park's headquarters are located. You can grab lunch there and then head back into the park to explore more.
At Artist's Palette, you will see brightly colored hills and rocks that are really unique.
The trailhead for Golden Canyon is just off of Badwater Road and a few miles from Furnace Creek. This can be a busy spot at days end but the entire area is so spread out, so you can find plenty of space to explore on your own. The amazing color of the soil and rock explode with bright golden tones when the sunset falls across the dessert.
"There is one main trail that heads up into the canyon and then it kind of spreads out into the canyon. So that people can thin out. So probably on the way back we will bump into some folks but right now we are going up into the canyon and nobody is here -- except these good people," said Greg, Motion host.
As we moved up higher on the canyon the narrow walls began to open up -- revealing a completely different landscape -- an area of smooth mounds stretch below the walls of red rock. Trails run along the foothills, allowing you to climb above the maze of paths below -- giving you inspiring views of Death Valley's Golden Canyon.
"There is going to be a lot of people walking around on Golden Canyon but because there are so many of these little ridges that wind around you can find your path," said Greg.
Of all the well-known stops in Death Valley, Golden Canyon is one of Greg's favorites. And, one that both Kim and Susanne really enjoyed. You really feel like you are standing on another planet there. The clean air, bright colors and diverse terrain make a sunset hike into Golden Canyon a MOTION MUST DO.
Furnace Creek Ranch is a great place to stay while exploring Death Valley. The rooms are comfortable and there is an 18-hole golf course nearby.
At nearly 16,000 feet, Dante's View is the perfect way to see Death Valley from above and truly appreciate the size of the national park.
"When we went up to Dante's View that really showed me the vastness of it all but when we got up there and you could see the salt flats just stretch forever that was pretty amazing," said Susanne.
Dante's View is another destination that is accessible to everyone.
Salt Creek is a great example of how diverse the desert can be. It is a year-round creek that flows through Death Valley.
The rock formations and layers at Mosaic Canyon are outrageously mixed with bands of dolomite, granite compounds and rocks have created a true mosaic of textures and colors.
"You can almost see through the rock. It is so clear and smooth," said Greg.
Death Valley is home to some of the oldest exposed rocks on earth. Some are carbon dated at 2 billion years old.
The Mesquite Dune Fields are about 20 miles north of Furnace Creek. These sprawling dunes are easy to reach from Highway 190. But when you venture out, make sure you have plenty of water with you. Like most places, the Mesquite Dunes are bigger than you think. While they look close from the road, it takes a pretty good hike to get out there.
The stillness of the Dunes in late afternoon light is unforgettable.
When Death Valley heats up in the late spring and summer, trekking out here can be dangerous. Heat exhaustion and burning sand are not as likely to be a problem in winter.
Death Valley National Park is the perfect example of how a harsh desert landscape can hold a unique, rugged beauty all of its own.
"My overall impression of Death Valley is that I never knew how big it was, how varied it was. It has so many amazing things, like the Mosaic Canyon with the marble, water in the flats, I mean, for a desert, and I am not a big desert rat, I am impressed," said Susanne.
"This is a park that you bring it, it doesn't bring it to you. You are going to take what you bring. You are going to bring what you take to this park so you are going to bring your best so you get the best out of it," said Kimberly.
Ninety-five percent of the park is designated as wilderness to help preserve this incredibly special part of the American West.
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